By JOHN BENSON
Special to The Gazette
Goodbye analog, hello digital.
The time is almost here for the Congress-mandated full analog-to-digital conversion of our television sets. In a nutshell, thatâ€™s what those annoying and incessant news crawls running during your favorite television show over the last year have been promoting.
(Merrill Rainey illustration)
While this news crawl may be anticlimatic to some, it could prove horrific to those folks who, well, like to watch television old-school style with rabbit ears pulling in the signals of roughly a half dozen Northeast Ohio television stations.
Some cable or dish-owning readers may scoff at such an idea, but the truth is the government estimates roughly 11 percent of television viewers currently do so using an antenna (and presumably a hope and prayer).
Although Congress voted on Feb. 4 to extend the conversion deadline to June 12, that doesnâ€™t let consumers off the hook.
So why exactly is this changeover happening?
â€œCongress mandated the date and the switch,â€ said Federal Communications Commission spokeswoman Mary Diamond. â€œThe benefits of the switch to digital are that the valuable spectrum that becomes available will be able to be used by public safety groups. Your local police and fire department, as well as wireless innovations and consumers, will be able to have a better picture and sound.
â€œLiterally, the spectrum when you convert from analog to digital, youâ€™re compressing what youâ€™re using. Digital takes up less space.â€
Digital converter boxes
So the solution for the government is whatâ€™s called a digital converter box, which after the conversion is one of three ways to ensure your television keeps working.
â€œItâ€™s the least expensive way to receive a digital signal,â€ Diamond said. â€œSo you can plug it into your television set and receive a digital signal. The second option is cable or satellite. And the third option is to buy a television set that has a digital tuner built-in, which the more recent television sets do.â€
In fact, all new televisions manufactured after 2004 were mandated to be digital signal friendly. In a side note, if you go to buy a television and it seems ridiculously cheap, make sure itâ€™s not an outdated analog set that will require a converter box.
Congress allocated funding to make the transition seamless by providing one converter box coupon per household worth $40 to all residents that requested assistance. And how many people would that be? The U.S. Department of Commerceâ€™s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the government agency responsible for dispersing the coupons, said itâ€™s mailed out more than 26.7 million vouchers.
â€œWeâ€™ve had 20.7 million coupons redeemed over the past year,â€ said NTIA Public Affairs Specialist Bart Forbes. â€œThatâ€™s a very significant number for people who have taken action. As you know, weâ€™ve been pushing people the last three months to request their coupons by Dec. 31 of 2008 to make sure we get them to them by the time of the transition.
â€œSo theyâ€™ll have some time to go out and get the converter box and get it connected. Weâ€™re very pleased with the success of the number of people who have actually heeded the call.
Unfortunately of course, there are always procrastinators, and thatâ€™s where we are today.â€
(The Ohio Department of Aging suggests that to be placed on a waiting list for for a converter box coupon as funds are freed up by expiring, unused coupons, call 888-388-2009 or visit www.dtv2009.gov. Those on the waiting list will receive coupons on a first-come, first-served basis as funds become available.)
For those couponless procrastinators, that means theyâ€™ll be on the hook for a converter that costs anywhere from $40 to $70.
Forbes said nationwide there are more than 34,239 stores selling the boxes. Odds are any big box electronics store in your area will stock the converters.
So how exactly does one hook up a converter box? The easy answer is to say itâ€™s similar to hooking up cable or an old school video game, but that probably doesnâ€™t help if youâ€™re still watching television with rabbit ears.
â€œThe converter box goes right between the antenna and the TV,â€ Forbes said. â€œIf you can attach an antenna, you can attach a converter box. Usually, thereâ€™s like an RCA cable.â€
If you need further assistance on hooking up the box to your television, a good Web site is www.digitaltips.org. Just click on the â€œDTVâ€ tab. Also, if this doesnâ€™t work, donâ€™t be afraid to ask a friend or family member (preferably someone whose life revolves around television, DVDs and video games).
Considering all of the achievements of our country over the past 50 years, converting from analog has proven to be quite an endeavor.
â€œThe nation as a whole switched from black and white to color televisions, and people said this will be a similar and historic change,â€ Diamond said.
Benson may be reached at email@example.com.